On the shores of Lake Michigan sits an often-overlooked lacrosse community in the shadow of its Midwestern neighbors. Lacrosse in the city of Chicago has been thriving in small pockets for decades, but it is finally ready for its renaissance. Powell Lacrosse would like to pay tribute to the Chicago lacrosse community as we continue on our mission to explore the field.
The Windy City is the best kept secret in lacrosse. It is home to some of the best programs, coaches, and players in the country, but is somehow still overlooked by those out east. That is changing at a rapid pace.
One Chicago team that has been successful for years has been the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team. The Wildcats have won 7 National Championships and are the only Division 1 lacrosse team in Illinois. Northwestern has dominated college lacrosse for the past few decades as they have made the NCAA playoffs every year since 2004. Head Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller came to Chicago in 2001 and transformed the team from a Midwestern afterthought to a lacrosse dynasty.
Loyola Academy and New Trier High School have one of the most storied rivalries in the country as they are the only two teams to win the Illinois State Championship since 2002 and have met each other in this game for 16 straight seasons. Both teams also play national schedules against teams from the Midwest and the East Coast. In 2018, Loyola beat teams like Georgetown Prep in Washington D.C. and Victor in Upstate New York. Loyola, New Trier, and other nearby high schools are now consistently sending players to Division 1 college teams all over the country.
The Chicago Machine of the MLL (2006-10) and the Chicago Shamrox of the NLL (2007-08) once called Chicago home and brought professional lacrosse to the city. Both unfortunately relocated, but it was recently announced that professional lacrosse will be returning to Chicago and will be one of the stops on the new Premier Lacrosse League’s tour this upcoming summer. This is a huge opportunity to attract new lacrosse fans and bring the best players in the world to the city to showcase the sport. The PLL will visit Chicago on June 15 and 16 this summer.
Chicago also has a growing community of post-collegiate players playing in local men’s and women’s leagues like ULAX. One of the teams in the area is the Chicago Lacrosse Club, which is a post-collegiate men’s team that was formed in 1965 and is still going strong. They play in the Chicago ULAX league and in tournaments around the country. After college, many lacrosse players move to Chicago for work and find themselves still wanting to play competitive lacrosse. There are dozens of former Division 1, 2, 3, and club players that have moved to the city that now play on the Chicago Lacrosse Club and other teams in the Chicago ULAX league. This influx of former college players also means there are people that have the knowledge and experience to be able to coach youth teams in the Chicago area.
The Chicago lacrosse community has seen its biggest growth in its youth programs that are introducing more kids to the sport than ever before through programs like Junkyard Dogs Lacrosse and OWLS Lacrosse.
Sean Conroy and Marc Pasquale founded the Junkyard Dogs lacrosse program 4 years ago when their kids showed an interest in lacrosse. Having grown up in Long Island and Upstate New York, they were eager to get back into the sport that was a way of life for them and their friends growing up. They explained that “Most of the local youth programs are based out in the suburbs, but we are one of the few initiated in the city itself giving kids the chance to play.” Their program is fittingly named after the 1985 Chicago Bears defense who were known as “Junkyard Dogs” giving a fun name and gritty style of play for the kids to get behind. Naturally the Bears colors were chosen for the uniforms.
OWLS Lacrosse (Outreach With Lacrosse and Schools), has been instrumental in using lacrosse to give underserved youth in the city mentorship and athletic opportunities. OWLS is one of many youth programs making a difference in the Chicago community and will receive a huge boost after partnering with the Premier Lacrosse League as part of the PLL Assists program.
The growth and potential in Chicago have even attracted Powell Lacrosse’s own Casey Powell. He has gone all in and moved to Chicago to take the reins of the Team One Lacrosse Club as well as become involved with lacrosse all over the city. Team One has boys and girls travel teams and Casey has made an impact immediately as they are becoming one of the premiere teams in the Chicago area along with the True, East Ave, and New Wave lacrosse programs. He has also brought his invention of Speed Lacrosse to the city and he the Great Wide Open Speed Lacrosse Festival this past August on Montrose beach with the Chicago skyline nearby.
Sean Conroy remembers a moment from last summer when “Casey Powell and Kelly Amonte Hiller were coaching on opposite fields for Team One. Let that sink in. Two of the greatest lacrosse players and coaches in men’s and women’s lacrosse history made their way here and have completely changed lacrosse in Chicago.”
Like many emerging lacrosse communities, the biggest obstacle for Chicago is having enough experienced coaches who can teach the game of lacrosse to kids who are usually the first people in their families to play the sport. Parents of many kids are signing them up having never played or really seen the sport before. Thankfully Casey as well as other lacrosse stars like Brian Karalunas and Josh Sexton have joined dozens of other dedicated coaches working extremely hard to teach the game properly and make Chicago a lacrosse hotbed.
The lacrosse is still new to many people in Chicago, but the lacrosse community is strong and growing every day. It sits right in between Notre Dame and Marquette so don’t be surprised if you start to see players from Chicago dotting their rosters and other college rosters all over the country. It is only a matter of time until Chicago joins the ranks of the best lacrosse cities in the country.